Detroit Homeland Security agencies, first responders press for funds

Oct 28, 2011

Metro Detroit’s Homeland Security agencies say they’ve made progress on border security and disaster preparedness in the past 10 years. But they warn federal budget cuts and a new way of allocating Homeland Security grants could jeopardize that.

A U.S. House Homeland Security subcommittee held a hearing called “The State of Northern Border Preparedness: A Review of Federal, State and Local Coordination” at Wayne State University Friday.

Detroit Congressman Hansen Clarke sits on the committee.

Since the program started after 9/11, Detroit has received what are known as Urban Area Security Initiative grant funds from the Department of Homeland Security.

A Congressional committee voted to strip those funds earlier this year. They were eventually restored, but are now split up around Metro Detroit. And they’re on the verge of drying up, too.

Detroit Director of Homeland Security Daryl Lundy said that leaves Detroit vulnerable:

“Many grants are going away. The dollars are shrinking. It just has to go back to directing the funds to where they need to be directed.”

Lundy and Clarke argue Detroit should get the bulk of Homeland Security dollars because it has, among other things, a busy international trade crossing and water system that are vulnerable to terrorism.

But the hearing also revealed that local first responders increasingly depend on Homeland Security grants to fund basic operations. But those funds are being cut.

Detroit Fire Commissioner Donald Austin said, “At some point, we’re gonna need some relief.”  

The Detroit Fire Department is seeking almost $5 million in grant money from the DHS.

“My biggest concern as I look at this fire service equation here in Detroit, is the 50-80,000 vacant buildings,” Austin said. “If I have 50,000 vacant dwellings and I have to go into them 3 times, I essentially have 150,000 vacant dwellings.”

Austin even suggested the U.S. Navy send in its Seabees—a construction battalion unit—to stage a massive demolition effort across the city.

Clarke said he would pass that request along to the Defense Department.